Today is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.
Star Trek The Original Series (TOS) was my first fandom that wasn’t initially a comic book. My first Con was a Star Trek Convention, more of a gathering really, held in a small hotel lobby who’s name I can’t recall. This 50 year-old, 5 Billion dollar franchise endures because of it’s die hard fans. As a kid, I dug the space battles, ray guns, scantily clad space babes and karate chops at first. Later, I realized Star Trek offered a utopian vision of a united humanity exploring the galaxy I could only appreciate as I matured. Star Trek also taught me the value of a solid STEM education, it provided instant friendships with other Trekkies no matter who they were or whatever differences we had, there was always a shared topic of passionate conversation. But ultimately, Star Trek taught me how to become a better man.
All the best Star Trek Commanders shared certain traits—Strong Leadership qualities obviously, Intellectual Curiosity, Compassion, Diplomacy, Ingenuity—but a little swagger went a long way. To command a starship you can’t be a pushover nor can you be a tyrant. Balance is key. Exemplified by Kirk’s Transporter malfunction generated doppelgänger in The TOS Episode “The Enemy Within”. Kirk is split into two manifestations: one empathetic, thoughtful, intelligent and docile—the other is pure rage, hedonistic, ego driven and maniacally cruel. Spock acknowledges that over time without the “bad” Kirk the Captain grows indecisive and unfit for command.
The best of us and the worst of us dwells within us all. The impulsive, malevolent side, restrained by a benevolent intellect, is vital for making correct calls under pressure. Command isn’t for the meek, the crew looks to you when the chips are down. Jean Luc Picard once said, in reference to sitting in the Big Chair, “At times, when you’re in command, it’s better to be confident then correct”.
Follow the Prime Directive
In Star Trek, The Prime Directive was the guiding principle for StarFleet Captains and their crews. A strict non-interference policy with developing cultures. I believe every man should also value other cultures and cultivate a guiding set of principles to live by that acts as your North Star. Non-negotiables important enough that you raise your kids by. Everyone’s will be different, depending upon a wide variety of factors, the important thing is to develop one. Otherwise, life is a rudderless mess. What’s true for individuals are true for a nation, in TOS episode ,”The Omega Glory” a stagnating war torn society, on an alternative earth The Constitution and adherence to it’s principles were put centerstage with a war between the “Yangs” and the “Kohms” exploited by a another rogue Star Fleet Captain wanting to find the secret of their longevity. This was a thin metaphor for U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the xenophobic hysteria of the time.
Keep Hailing Frequencies open
As a rule, it’s best to engage others with an open mind, yours isn’t the only valid perspective and you don’t get a second chance at First Contact. In one of my favorite TOS episodes “Devil In The Dark” an asteroid mining colony was plagued by a series of brutal murders by an unseen attacker. The Enterprise was tasked with protecting both the Miners and the production of an essential ore. After Mr. Spock mind-melded with the creature, he discovered that the Miners had inadvertently destroyed her eggs and the creature reacted as any mother would to protect her clutch. Eventually, Mother Horta and her hatchlings worked together with the miners for mutual benefit.
Choose Your Away Teams Carefully
New situations are rarely as they first appear. Surround yourself with a robust, supportive mix of talented friends and acquaintances that increase your chances of success. That doesn’t mean Yes Men. Captain Kirk had Mr. Spock & Dr. McCoy, two totally divergent personalities from his own, as colleagues and friends but valued their advice and benefited greatly from their counsel. Growing up I had my squad that was as eclectic as you could get however only a few were “ride or die”. I knew who I could trust and I also had a few haters and negative people pretending to be friends (Red Shirts). I learned the difference. You’d be wise to do the same.
“The air is the air, what can be done?”
This is a quote from T’Pau, Vulcan Matriarch in TOS episode “Amok Time” Spock is compelled to fight to the death and take a wife. The quote is in reference to Kirk’s disadvantage fighting Spock in Planet Vulcan’s harsher climate.
Sometimes you just have to play cards you’re dealt, but as Dr. Mc Coy (choose your away team carefully) cleverly slipped Kirk a Tri-Ox compound to simulate Kirk’s death before Spock was forced to kill him. A man can always find a way to influence the outcomes of bad situations more in his favor, which leads me directly to…
“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios..”
In my favorite Star Trek feature film “The Wrath of Khan” Admiral Kirk famously said this line during the “Kobayashi Maru” exam. It was an Academy test of a Commanders ability to operate under pressure and face death, which long ago Cadet Kirk rigged so he could save his ship. If you have the requisite intelligence, intestinal fortitude and imagination, you’d surprise yourself how you can achieve your objectives.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC)
The Vulcan concept of IDIC is ultimately what resonated with me and I suspect most fans. In 1966 during the height of the Cold War, Civil Rights Era and Vietnam, Star Trek pushed boundaries and challenged assumptions surrounding issues like Colonialism, Xenophobia and Racism on Television that made many uncomfortable. The first prime time interracial kiss aired on Star Trek and censors had kittens. Walter Konig’s Chekov- a proudly Russian Navigator and George Takei’s enduring Helmsman Mr. Sulu (representing a still under-represented Asian demographic) seems quaint by today’s standards but was controversial for the time. Roddenberry’s genius and the spirt of the show focused on the issues of it’s day. At it’s best, Star Trek held a current societal mirror up and at the same time, was a future window of what mankind could achieve if we finally decided to work together.
Star Fleet though a selected service, was not primarily a military institution of colonization. Starship Captains were entrusted to represent The United Federation of Planets in diplomatic missions searching for greater knowledge of the universe for the benefit of all. Nichelle Nichols famously was encouraged by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to stick with the show as the positive representaion of black womanhood Lt. Nyota Uhuru personified that was lacking on television then (only slightly better today). I found DS9’s Commander Sisko’s ( Avery Brooks from A Man Called Hawk) relationship with his son Jake resonated with me as a father. He encouraged his son’s choice to become a writer instead of pursuing a Star Fleet career. He kissed his son, as my dad did to me as I do with my son today. It’s always great to see positive representation of black males being loving dads.
Now, you may think it’s strange I navigate important life issues like Patenting, Faith, Ableism, Sexism and Privilege through the lens of IDIC from a 50 year old Sci-fi show. And I don’t mind it one bit. For me, as a Trekkie, It’s only logical. Here’s why.
Roddenberry wasn’t a Sci-fi guy, he had served as a pilot in the Air Force and was a writer and producer. Star Trek impacted the world in a way that no other series had before or since. Ask NASA scientists and astronauts how important Star Trek was for the space program. The development of technology and in fact, the career choices these engineers and scientists made who gave us some of these technologies were directly influenced by Star Trek, from Motorola’s flip phone to The iPad to Google’s admitted AI development, their goal is to have a voice and data interface similar to the computer voiced by Gene’s real life wife Majel Barrett who played Nurse Christine Chapel on the show.
Roddenberry’s Star Trek is loved and admired universally for it’s vision of a hopeful future but also in the vein of the best fiction and science fiction in particular, was very politicaly active and aware of the societal problems of it’s day.
Bottom line is Star Trek molded the lives of a lot of Trekkies far smarter than myself and I’m proud to be a part of such company.
With the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery returning to prime time, Produced by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman for CBS All Access, due to premiere in January 2017, I have hope the show will continue more in the vein of the TOS (slight shade toward the reboots) because unless the franchise has something important to say about the world as it stands today, another 50 years of Trek is doubtful.
But, I still have my TOS series, TNG, VOYAGER & DS9 feature films and the animated show (It’s truly the fourth season with original cast voices on Netfilx!). Alas, the air is the air, what can be done?
all art – Paramount
“Gotta love the original. In the rear view mirror it may look kitschy and quaintly low tech but 50 years ago it was the go to for a few generations. Just about everyone has a Star Trek original story. Social certainly does.” – Howard K. 30dB